In response to the challenges facing the Succulent Karoo, the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) emerged as an innovative programme. SKEP champions a model of conservation that integrates high-level scientific expertise with socio-economic and institutional concerns.

The Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) is a long term, multi-stakeholder bioregional conservation and development programme. SKEP began as a bi-national initiative between Namibia and South Africa, with the aim of defining a way to conserve this ecosystem, and to develop conservation as a land-use rather than instead of land-use. The acronym “SKEP” means “to serve” in Afrikaans, the most commonly spoken language in the region.

This approach is encapsulated in the SKEP Twenty Year Strategy developed in 2001/2002, based on the following broad vision: “The people of the Succulent Karoo take ownership of and enjoy their unique living landscape in a way that maintains biodiversity and improves livelihoods now and into perpetuity.”

SKEP’s vision is that “the people of the Succulent Karoo take ownership of and enjoy their unique living landscape in a way that maintains biodiversity and improves livelihoods now and in perpetuity.”

At the end of the SKEP planning process, a 20-Year Strategy was drawn up with a comprehensive set of actions. These actions aim to achieve conservation targets by addressing constraints and maximising opportunities in the key priority areas, and are summarised below as a series of four long-term strategic focal areas.

The first five years of implementation was funded through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and focused on catalysing civic engagement in conservation. The following five years focused on embedding the programme at government. This entailed integrating SKEP objectives into national and regional government programmes, and thereby ensuring programme sustainability.

The 20-year conservation targets identified for the Succulent Karoo during the SKEP planning phase in 2001 were:

a) 75 percent of the conservation targets set in the SKEP process for 135 vegetation types will be protected and conserved.

b) Key climatic gradients and riverine corridors will be taken into consideration in the creation or expansion of any protected areas.

c) Globally threatened and endangered species listed in the Red Data sources will be under additional protection.

d) Sites in the Succulent Karoo Hotspot (SKH) that house unique, endemic and globally threatened species will be identified and protected.

The four broad Strategic Focal Areas of the 20-year strategy identified for achieving the vision and targets were and still are:

1. Increasing local, national and international awareness of the unique biodiversity of the Succulent Karoo.

The Succulent Karoo is one of the biological wonders of the world. Generating local and national awareness about the importance of the SKH is the first steps to ensuring conservation practices are adopted. Additionally, SKEP will seek to raise international awareness about the Succulent Karoo’s biodiversity as a way of supporting sustainable development activities in the region.

2. Expanding protected areas and improving conservation management, particularly through the expansion of public-private-communal-corporate partnerships.

Improving the capacity of the government organisations responsible for protected areas was identified as a priority for expanding and managing an expanded network of reserves that would contribute to achieving SKEP targets. However, large conservation-worthy tracts of land in the Succulent Karoo are owned and used by mining, agricultural and tour companies, as well as by communities and private farmers. Few mechanisms have been developed to stimulate the participation of these sectors in the development of conservation areas. An additional priority is to promote and facilitate innovative programs that involve local landowners in the creation of effective conservation areas within the SKH priority areas and through the region.

3. Support the creation of a matrix of harmonious land uses.

The SKEP strategy emphasises to make all land-users in the SKH aware of the need to conserve biodiversity and to view conservation not as preventing a land-use, but as a land-use that will maintain biodiversity and sustain long-term development of this region. SKEP will encourage partnerships between the conservation community, key industry and government stakeholders. SKEP will provide exposure to opportunities to communities, industries and stakeholders to enhance their business and development interests, while simultaneously meeting conservation objectives.

4. Improve institutional co-ordination to generate momentum and focus on priorities, maximise opportunities for partnerships, and ensure sustainability.

Effective conservation of the SKH requires the integration of biodiversity concerns into all agencies and actors involved in land-use, decision-making, education and enforcement. In addition to the conservation community, a wide constituency of stakeholders who may not be directly concerned with biodiversity but whose actions can impact the success of the SKEP must be given the tools to integrate biodiversity conservation into their work.

By expanding participation in a broad vision for SKEP can maximise opportunities to mainstream biodiversity ensure that momentum generated for a holistic SKEP programme is institutionally and financially sustainable.

While much has been achieved in the first five years of SKEP, more still needs to be done to make sure that this vital, sensitive region and its people are able to survive – and indeed thrive – in the face of mounting pressures. The future of SKEP needs to see stronger links with key government departments and programmes with a focus on strengthening local government capacity.

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